Saturday 29 May 2010

Old cycle sounds updated on Davie Allan's new album, Retrophonic

There's some old cycle sounds updated on Davie Allan's new album, Retrophonic, writes CairnsBlog music reviewer David Anthony

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something bluesy.

That’s how I would describe guitar man Davie Allan’s sensational new album Retrophonic.

Retrophonic hits the right notes, bringing the California sounds of the 1960s into the 21st century. It comprises a potpourri of new instrumentals, previously unreleased vocal covers from the 1960s and updated versions of Davie Allan and the Arrows classics.

I ordered my copy via Davie’s website and when it arrived I couldn’t wait to whack it on the stereo.

As I listened to the two sensational opening tracks, “Devil Dust” and “Uprising”, I dug up a few old DVDs as well as my well-thumbed copy of Stephen J. McParland’s history of biker movies and soundtrack albums for a night of Cycle Cinema and Sickle Sounds.

The book was published in various forms before its appearance as an updated “collector” edition in 2003, a handsome volume illustrated with photos and dingy old grindhouse movie posters.

Stephen McParland, an Australian living in Sydney, is the foremost chronicler of the California Sound and his previous works include a series of books on musician Gary Usher and a history of the Beach Party movies of the ’60s.

A book like this is heaven. The American biker movies of the 1960s and ’70s are inseparable from their music soundtracks and McParland’s encyclopedic work is a comprehensive and exhaustive record.

It recognises 57 films as part of the biker sub-genre that roughly spanned a decade from 1965 to 1973. Sure there was Brando in The Wild One which shocked sheltered theatre-goers out of their seats in 1954 and grindhouse king Russ Meyer’s Motor Psycho in 1965.

But it was Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels in 1966 where it all started.

Davie Allan, known as the “King of the Fuzz Guitar”, wrote one of the forewords to Cycle Cinema and Sickle Sounds and McParland’s book pays due tribute to Davie’s significant contribution to biker movies and rock music.

As a session muso for the impresario of the California sound, Mike Curb, Davie was the real creative talent behind the acclaimed soundtrack for Roger Corman’s 1966 cult classic, The Wild Angels, co-starring Hell’s Angels members.

McParland details the making of the film, including its soundtrack.

The Wild Angels starred a pre-Easy Rider Peter Fonda as Heavenly Blues and Nancy Sinatra (as you have never seen before) as his girl Mike.

After the death of friend Loser (Bruce Dern), whose injured body they kidnap from the hospital, they stage a funeral in a small town, complete with a swastika-draped coffin and an alcohol-soaked orgy.

After the bikers are attacked by the angry townsfolk, Blues, finally recognising the futility of his dead-end lifestyle, stays behind to face the music of police sirens.

Davie Allan’s music is a crucial counterpoint to the film’s action. Though uncredited onscreen, he gave the movie its sound and with his band, The Arrows, played all the tracks.

He was subsequently given due credit on the two hit LP soundtrack albums released soon after the film.

“The sound achieved and developed…was a joint concept created by Allan, Curb, (Richie) Podolor and arranger Harley Hatcher, another Curb associate,” McParland writes. “This successful formula would be used over ad over again in successive soundtracks featuring Allan and the Curb stable of artists.”

What Davie brought to The Wild Angels was the thrilling energy, freedom and hedonism of the bikers, at the same time, importantly, his music, underlined the alienation, emptiness, disillusionment and loneliness of these outsiders as well as foreshadowing their impending doom.

This was a hallmark of many future soundtracks such as Davie’s excellent Devil’s Angels, The Born Losers and The Glory Stompers as well as non-Allan soundtracks like Rebel Rousers, the almost flower-powery sounds in Angel Unchained, and even Easy Rider which effectively used existing songs.

Davie’s “Blue’s Theme”, a big instrumental hit in the ’60s, is revisited twice on the new Retrophonic album, first as the grungy, high-octane “Heavenly Blues” and later as, ironically, “Recycled”.

The Glory Stompers was one of the worst, grimiest and sleaziest of all the biker films with its star, a pre-Easy Rider Dennis Hopper, at his mumbling worst. Geez, I wish they’d put it out on DVD.

Davie Allan’s score was the best thing in Glory Stompers, his lyrical instrumentals a curious but perfect counterpoint to the hysterical mayhem on-screen from the most ghastly biker gang in cinema history, Werewolves on Wheels notwithstanding.

Apparently unhappy with his previous versions of the title foot-tapping track, Davie re-recorded it for Retrophonic. “I feel I finally got it right!” he declares confidently and correctly in the liner notes.
Sadly, Mike Curb, later a Republican politician, clung tightly to the rights of all music bearing his name, cutting Davie out of credits and royalties. Davie kickstarted his career in the 1990s with new originals and a new line-up for the Arrows. In 2004, Curb permitted the release of a double album of Davie’s Curb recordings from 1964 to 1965, Devil’s Rumble.

Most of this music were from biker movies and youth flicks now considered cult classics – Wild in the Streets, Devil’s Angels, The Hellcats to name a couple.

Since McParland published Cycle Sounds, filmmakers are rediscovering Davie Allan. To be more specific, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino in 2008 dragged a couple of old biker movie stars out of retirement to go for one more Hell Ride.

Larry Bishop from Angel Unchained starred and directed with a cast including David Carradine and the Man Himself, Dennis Hopper.

Hell Ride is probably too slick and handsome to re-create the older films which were more ragged around the edges.

But all the old elements of sex, lust, violence, revenge and alienation, are there, including a score dominated by Davie Allan tracks, including “Devil’s Rumble”. Tarantino liked this track so much he re-used it on the soundtrack for his Oscar-nominated war opus, Inglorious Basterds.

The Retrophonic album comprises a potpourri of new instrumentals, previously unreleased vocal tracks from the 1960s and updated versions of Davie Allan the Arrows classics. The ’60s vocal tracks include a California version of the Beatles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and The Mamas and the Papas’ “Straight Shooter”.

Two bonus tracks feature vocals by a new young talent, Lisa Mychols, who has one of the sweetest, prettiest voices I’ve heard in a long time.

With this renewed interest in his work, fans are fortunate that Davie is still going strong and is better than ever.

It might be time for Stephen McParland to update his indispensable volume.
  • Retrophonic (Arrow Dynamic, $US12.50)

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